Being the husband of a pregnant wife is not for the faint-hearted. JD has had to use wisdom and discernment to know when I’m having a serious problem and when I’m just being hormonal (like the other night when I literally cried over a peanut butter commercial–he’s yet to let me live that one down); which is why I try to be cautious on my reading material these days. Let’s face it, these hormones don’t need any help!
Last night I pulled out Brian Zahnd’s “Unconditional” thinking to enjoy a few chapters and receive some motivation in forgiveness before bed. (Side note: I am only a few chapters in, so I can’t endorse it yet, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the finesse with which he writes). I was unprepared for the illustration he cited from another book, telling the story of a dying SS officer making a last confession to a Jew; the officer told of how he and his fellow officers herded a large group of Jews into a multi-level home and set it on fire. They officers stood in a circle around the building to shoot anyone who tried to escape, listening to agonized screams as men, women, children, and infants burned alive. The officer told of seeing a father stand at a 2-story window holding a small child in his arms. The child’s mother stood close by. With his free hand, the father covered the eyes of his child. Then they all jumped out of the window.
I had to stop reading around this point, lay aside my book, and tiptoe to the next room to smooth silky hair and press a kiss against a chubby cheek. When I returned to bed, the tears were streaming down my face. JD listened quietly to my explanation (really, what do you say to a story like that) and soon after we went to sleep.
The image of that Jewish father continues to shadow me today. His pain-filled, poignant love ignored the fact that his clothes were already burning and shielded his child’s final moments on earth. What gave him the strength to jump, knowing there would be no survival? Did he explain to his child what was happening? Did he turn his body so that the child would hit the ground first (and be more assured of an instant death) or did he try to take the brunt of the fall himself? Did the mother wait to see them hit before she jumped?
Of course, the major question in my mind today remains, “Could I watch JD in the same scenario and find it in myself to forgive the ones who drove him to it?” The idea alone makes my sunshine-bathed afternoon in suburban America seem surreal.
Unfortunately, the issues we typically refuse to forgive are a lot less daunting. We lose sight of the abject horror of Christ on His cross, using justification and entitlement to excuse our God-ordained calling to bless those who curse us and pray for those who persecute us. Our breed of Christianity that glorifies self-indulgence and a “free-love” mentality is not capable of standing (much less bearing fruit) in real-life scenarios when God chooses not to “send His angels to bear you up so your foot doesn’t hit a stone” (my paraphrase from Psalm 91). To quote a line from the singer, Carman’s “Witch’s Invitation,” His sovereignty and our lack of understanding that He is working His plan and not necessarily ours leaves us “in that stunned moment when your faith gets violated….”
I fervently believe American Christians are about to see a rise in real persecution–not just the “oh-they-took-away-our-rights” kind but the dismemberment and martyrdom kind, and we are not ready. As a whole, we do not have the heart of the One who prayed, “Father, forgive them” as they killed Him. Truly, it is hard to forgive those who do not see they’ve done wrong; and yet, if we do not freely forgive “them” will we be positioned to forgive Him when He allows pain into our lives that we know He could have spared us? Could we have watched our spouse burning alive and leaping to death with our only child and still say “You’re faithful and You’re kind”? To do otherwise is to miss the central truth of the Way. Forgiveness is not a one-day goal for the Christian; though it cost us everything, forgiveness is the ultimate requirement.